By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, LLC
As we near the end of the high school regular season for football an interesting pattern emerges that team physicians and athletic trainers have seen for many years: athletes start hiding from injuries. What I mean by that is that many high school football players will not notify their athletic trainer or team physician about an injury for fear that they will be kept out of an important game. The final regular season game is often a “rivalry” game, and if the team has done well enough this will be followed by playoffs. The temptation is often to play through an injury, sometimes with short-term and long-term consequences.
A Tale of Two Back Injuries
Let me give you two very real examples from the current season, all personal details are removed. About four weeks ago two promising football players had the sudden onset of back pain during a game. One player reported this to the trainer after the game, and after her evaluation and functional testing the player was referred to me for further evaluation. I was concerned for a possible stress fracture and ordered an MRI scan. Fortunately, the scan showed what we would call a “stress reaction” rather than a “stress fracture”, which meant that it was a type of overuse injury with an excellent chance of full healing. The young man took two weeks off from impact loading, his pain completely disappeared and we now have him on a gradual increase in activity. He is likely to be 100% ready for the first playoff game.
The second player did not report the injury to the trainer. He did, however, notify his parents. They sought treatment for their son through chiropractic care, herbal supplements, and deep tissue massage. This is their right, but my only problem with this particular scenario is that none of the above practitioners obtained an accurate diagnosis first. He continued to try and play through the pain. His performance suffered, and his pain worsened. Finally, they consulted a sports medicine physician, and an MRI scan revealed full stress fractures at both sides of the two lower lumbar vertebrae (that’s four stress fractures). This young man’s season is over, and there are concerns for his future health. While I can’t prove this with certainty, my gut tells me that early diagnosis and intervention would have saved this situation from getting as bad as it did.
Your Trainer Is There To Help You
Contrary to the young athlete’s popular belief, the athletic trainer is there to help with safe healing from an injury and return to play in the shortest time possible. Far more often than not early reporting to the trainer will keep the athlete on the field. The trainer really wants the athlete to play as long as it’s safe and in the best interest of the athlete. Sure, this sometimes means a bit of time off, but maybe not. Many injuries can be treated with modalities such as taping, bracing, ice, ultrasound, etc. and keep the athlete playing with no loss of time. With the end of season games taking on more meaning it’s more important than ever to keep your trainer in the loop. Don’t hide from injuries.